Welcome to the Emerald City. It’s easy to see how Seattle got its nickname: From green forests to Amazon’s 21st century gold rush to legalized recreational cannabis, Seattle is cool, geeky, urban and outdoorsy. This is the leading metropolis of the Pacific Northwest, home to an eco-oriented, caffeine-fueled mix of gleeful capitalism and countercultural activism.
It’s true there are many cold, gray days. But when the sun appears, everyone comes out to enjoy its glorious cameos. Many people associate Seattle with the grunge music scene of the 1990s, and there’s still a palpable sense of lowbrow brilliance by the likes of Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder (then) and Thunderpussy and Macklemore (now).
But today’s Seattle means big business. Besides Amazon, the region spawned Costco, Microsoft, Starbucks, Nordstrom and Boeing. The city is a major Pacific Rim gateway, with construction cranes filling its skies and housing costs rising among the fastest in the United States.
This is a foodie haven, too–no surprise, with the sea so close and rich farmland nearby. Menus and markets feature salmon, a bevy of berries and offbeat ingredients like fiddlehead ferns, oysters and wild mushrooms. Craft beverages are abundant, from microbrews to ciders and spirits. Washington ranks second only to California for wine production, and you’ll be sure to find the state’s best vintages served all over town.
Visitors usually spend most of their time downtown, where the waterfront, Pike Place Market (with the original Starbucks) and the Seattle Art Museum are located. The nearby Seattle Center is home to the Space Needle, the Frank Gehry-designed MoPOP (Museum of Popular Culture) and Chihuly Garden and Glass.
Amazon dominates the South Lake Union area, where you’ll find the Museum of History and Industry and the Center for Wooden Boats. Seattle got its start in Pioneer Square, now a center for nightlife, art galleries and sports action. International District attractions include the Wing Luke Museum. But this is a city of neighborhoods meant for exploring, from the eternally hip Ballard and Fremont to the always-youthful Capitol Hill to newer favorites including Columbia City, Georgetown and West Seattle.
Seattle has ample outdoor recreational riches within the city limits, including Discovery Park, Green Lake and the Burke-Gilman Trail. Not far away, you’ll find kayaking and whale watching in the Puget Sound and skiing in view of Mount Rainier.
Day-trip and weekend possibilities include wine tasting, island hopping and small-town idylls. Combining all of these can be as easy as walking onto a Washington State Ferry bound for Bainbridge Island from the Seattle waterfront or plotting a more ambitious course to the Olympic Peninsula or the San Juan Islands.
If you’re just making a quick stop, check out our Seattle Perfect Day itinerary. Chances are you’ll want to stay longer next time.
Seattle Romantic Getaway: Loving the Emerald City … Treat your sweetheart to a good time in the Emerald City
Seattle When It’s Soggy … How and where to laugh at the rain in Seattle
Seattle: Fuel Up for a Perfect Day … From the Space Needle to Pike Place Market, plus some Northwest cuisine in Seattle
Seattle: Pure Gold for Families … Fun for all ages in the outdoor-loving big city of Seattle
Settle into Seattle: What to do in a Week … Your guide to a fun extended stay in Seattle, a booming destination
Seattle is a fun place to visit any season of the year, but May through September is by far the most popular time. The city is packed with tourists, including about a million people passing through to meet cruise ships sailing for Alaska. The weather is gorgeous and the days are long, with lots of outdoor festivals and events to enjoy. Summer is the time when locals marvel to one another that we get to live where so many other people come to play.
If Seattleites seem a bit giddy in summer, it’s because there are long stretches the rest of the year where the sun is a stranger. But even in bad weather, you can have a good time in Seattle. Fall through spring are great seasons to sample the city’s abundant arts offerings, and these can be less expensive times to visit, too.
It’s possible to see a lot of Seattle in a day or two, and many people cruising to Alaska or attending conventions bookend their trips with stays in Seattle. Especially in summer, evenings offer plenty of daylight to take in several major sights. (Note, though, that Pike Place Market’s stalls close down by 6 p.m.) See the Seattle Perfect Day itinerary for suggestions on how to make the most of a short visit.
Seattle’s attractions can easily fill a long weekend visit. A stay of three or four days means more time to explore Seattle Center and the waterfront and get a taste of a few neighborhoods. If you have a week to spare, you can explore nearby towns and islands–and if you have two weeks, you can do justice to the entire Pacific Northwest, including Portland, Vancouver, B.C. and even a national park or two.
Seattle summers are usually sublime, with clear skies, low humidity and warm temperatures. Climate change has brought occasional midsummer heat waves, but the mercury rarely goes into the 90s. A bigger concern is the increase in forest fires. Thick smoke from blazes in Eastern Washington and British Columbia affected air quality and visibility in Seattle and throughout the Northwest in summer 2017.
October through April, it rains more days than it doesn’t, but usually in a light but persistent drizzle rather than in downpours. Snow rarely sticks around for long, but you don’t want to see Seattle drivers try to deal with it (unless it’s on one of the comical YouTube videos showing such shenanigans).
The Seattle region has events year-round, though they’re especially thick spring through fall. A few to watch for include:
The Moisture Festival is pure Seattle, a mix of music, comedy and vaudeville performed for three weeks each spring in a circus-like hall behind Hale’s Brewery near Fremont and a theater on Capitol Hill.
Believe it or not, the Seattle International Film Festival is bigger than Sundance, Toronto or Cannes, at least in the number of screenings it hosts over the event’s long run in May and June. What’s even more remarkable is that sun-starved Seattleites willingly go indoors during some of the spring’s first nice days to sit in the dark and watch really good movies.
The Northwest Folklife Festival, held Memorial Day Weekend at Seattle Center, is the unofficial start to summer. Unlike the pricey Bumbershoot festival held at summer’s end on the same grounds, this one is free (though donations are appreciated).
Upstream Music Fest & Summit is a newer event that brings bands and music industry panels to Pioneer Square in early June.
The Fremont Fair in late June is best known for its Solstice Parade (and its many body-painted participants), a dog parade and a street fair. If you miss this, you can catch the Fremont Sunday Flea Market year-round on Sundays.
Seattle’s large, loud and proud LBGTQ community throws a fabulous Pride celebration every June, with many straight-but-not-narrow friends joining the fun.
The region has outdoor concerts galore each summer, but the major venues are beyond Seattle’s city limits: Marymoor Park in Redmond, White River Amphitheater in Auburn and (classiest of all) Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville. Note that the annual Sasquatch festival and other concerts at the Gorge amphitheater take place 150 miles east of Seattle. Don’t be like our unsuspecting friends who flew into Sea-Tac for a show and had no idea the Gorge is so far away.
Seafair runs for much of the summer, with dozens of events under its umbrella. Among the biggest: a torchlight parade, hydroplane races and fleet week maritime celebration.
Bumbershoot remains the year’s biggest music-oriented event, with lots of big-name bands (plus comedy and more) at Seattle Center every Labor Day Weekend.
Seattle is in the Pacific Time Zone and observes Daylight Saving Time. To check the local time in Seattle, click here.
Daylight Savings Time (DST) happens in the spring (early March, on a Sunday morning at 2AM). It’s when clocks are advanced one hour so there is more daylight later into the evening. In the fall (late October or early November on a Sunday morning at 2AM), clocks shift back one hour to standard time. The entire U.S. (except most of Arizona) participates in this ritual of “springing forward” and “falling back.”
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $US.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $11-25 per person
$$$ => Tickets $26+ per person
$ => Rooms less than $100 for a double
$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $300+ for a double
$ => Up to $15 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$ => $16-22 for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
$$$ => $23+ for average main at dinner (or lunch/breakfast if no dinner is served)
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their “friend” or subscribe to their e-mailings.
Have Car, Will Travel
It’s possible to get around in Seattle without a car. Traffic is quite heavy here, and transit is good. You might want to organize your sightseeing so you don’t need a car for at least part of your trip, then rent one if you want to travel further afield.
If you do choose to rent a vehicle, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.
There are also name-your-own-price sites, like Priceline, where you tell ‘em what you want to pay and they hook you up with a car rental company who can fit the bill. There are some great deals here, if you are not too picky about the make and model of your rental.
Short-term car rentals are available in Seattle via Car2Go, Reach Now and Zipcar. Car2Go and ReachNow are best if you want mostly one-way rentals. Both are app based and allow you to rent for just a few minutes, if you’re just driving from one neighborhood to another, for example. Zipcar is a good alternative if you already have a membership in your home city, since it is priced by the month ($7) or year ($70), plus hourly fees. You must also return the Zipcar to the same spot you picked it up. Check each service’s website for more information.
Ride-sharing companies, Uber and Lyft, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
Hopefully, your trip to (or within) the U.S. goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical — Health services in the U.S. are expensive for the uninsured. This is a major reason to consider purchasing insurance. Whether you break a leg or need a blood transfusion, you will likely incur costs far higher than you might pay in other nations. And what if you have an accident that requires transport to a major medical center? Air ambulances alone could set you back $15,000 to $30,000.
Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travelers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip costs $4,000 to $6,000 (or more), it’s probably a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. So is your destination. If you’re traveling to a hurricane-prone area during hurricane season, for example, you’ll probably want some coverage “just in case” … no matter what.
Your English language skills are also an important factor. Insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework — check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
If you have pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition. But companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The travel insurance business is expanding and evolving rapidly. As “shared space” lodging options like VRBO, Airbnb and Homeaway become more popular in the travel and leisure market, so does the need for insurance for both property owners and travelers.
For more information, visit the US Travel Insurance Association.
U.S. dollars come in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills. They are all the same size and color, so non-Americans have an understandably tricky time telling them apart. The $2 bill is in circulation but rarely seen.
Coins in wide circulation include pennies (1 cent), nickels (5 cents), dimes (10 cents), quarters (25 cents). The 50 cent and dollar coins are seen occasionally.
Smaller businesses may not accept $50 or $100 bills, so plan to have $20s or smaller bills in hand.
If you get money from an ATM machine, you may incur charges (often $2 or $3 per transaction). Check with your bank before you leave home to find out which, if any, U.S. banks will allow you to get cash without an extra charge. Many grocery stores, gas stations and major retail outlets let you get a limited amount of “cash back” when paying for your goods — this is an easy way to get cash while on the go.
Credit and debit cards are accepted widely throughout the U.S.
Don’t forget to call your debit and/or credit card company before you travel to inform them of your planned itinerary. This goes for U.S. residents traveling out of state. If you don’t do this in advance, you risk having your card denied/declined when you try to use it in a destination far from home. You should also call your company immediately to report loss or theft. The numbers to call are usually on the back of the card — which doesn’t make sense if they are lost or stolen. So make a note of them and store them where you’ll have easy access.
Recently, companies have been issuing cards with embedded chips that prevent counterfeit fraud. Banks and merchants that don’t offer the chip-and-PIN technology are beginning to be held liable for fraud. Check with your bank and credit card company for details on your specific cards.
Tipping is a cost you must build into the budget for any U.S. travel experience, whether urban or rural. Tipping is most relevant to dining out and hotel stays, but other costs should also be taken in to consideration. General guidelines include:
In part because Seattle has one of the most generous minimum wage laws in the United States, some restaurants have either raised prices to reflect the added staffing costs or have instituted a service charge (usually 20 percent, distributed among all staff) to take the place of tips. Most restaurants state their policy in signs and on the menu; you should also check your bill to see if a service charge is included.
Other Seattle restaurants still have traditional U.S. tipping: For excellent service, plan to tip 20% on the total bill, before taxes. For less-than-stellar service, 10-15% is customary, as an imperfect experience is often not solely the responsibility of the server.
Most bell staff receive $1-$2 per bag they assist with; if someone carts all of your bags up to your room, expect to tip $5-$10.
Tips for housekeeping are also good form. The rule of thumb is $2-$3 per day and about $5 per day in higher end properties.
At properties with concierge services, consider tipping concierge staff who assist you in planning activities, making reservations or acquiring tickets, or simply orienting you with driving directions or public transportation info. Current etiquette calls for $10-$20 per person, per day for concierge help. Car valet staff expect $1-$2 for delivering you your car. Spa employees (massage therapists, aestheticians, etc.) usually see 20% tips on their services, whether performed at the spa or in your room.
Invariably, there are incidental costs associated with being on the road. Make sure to budget between $10 and $40 per day for batteries, lost phone chargers, bug repellent, headache medicine, sunburn relief and other personal items you might have forgotten. If you’re traveling with kids, consider the snack budget. In and around downtown Seattle, the Bartell Drugs chain is a good place to shop for necessities.